Ethical Standards and Ethical Leadership

PSY 533 U02 BLOG POST – Ethical Standards and Ethical Leadership

Ethical standards, and ethical actions in government, are extremely important.  At a time when the actions of politicians and government leaders seems to be increasingly unethical, the ethical standards that should guide the actions for these political leaders must to be clear and unequivocal.  Too often, political calculations become the basis for governmental actions; too often politicians and governmental officials act in an unethical manner, use unethical means to achieve their own political gain or to achieve the political gain of their affiliated political party.  Governmental officials and political leaders may have different views about what is best for their constituents, for their party, for their town, their state, their country, our society – but they should always be acting in the public interest and not placing the public interest ahead of their own pecuniary desires.

The cure to this ethical malaise is not simple, and by no means something to be taken lightly.  Clearly, this is a big issue with far-reaching consequences.  Unethical behavior and actions leads to a lack of ethically-based public policy, and identifies the need for public officials to have an understanding of the ethical standards they will be required to meet as public officials.   The need to raise the ethical bar in relation to politicians and government leaders may require no more poof than a review of the daily news headlines or the evening news as the actions and involvements of government leaders seem to be on an inexorable downward trajectory.

Ethical leadership can be viewed in different ways.  A better understanding of the theoretical basis may provide greater insight.  Ethical theories can be divided into different types.  These include theories based on conduct, which identify and relate to consequences or duty, and those based on character, which focus on individual attributes.  Conduct-based, or teleological, theories define good and bad behavior that relate to the outcome associated with a specific action or actions.  This category of conduct theory can be divided into three separate types:  ethical-egoism, utilitarianism, and altruism.  Ethical-egoism would guide an individual to take action that would provide the greatest good for themselves, Utilitarianism points a person’s action towards achieving the greatest good for the most people, and Altruism goes a step further by pointing moral decision making towards achieving the best interests of others even if that means sacrificing one’s own self-interest.  Duty-based, or deontological, theories of ethics relate to the nature of the action itself, and whether that action is, or should be, deemed good or proper.  According to this conception, “A leaders actions are moral if the leader has the moral right to do them, it the actions do not infringe upon others’ rights, and if the actions further the moral rights of others” (Northouse, 2016, pp. 333-335).  Other theories of ethics based on character, or virtue, are based primarily on an individual’s character.  Rooted in the philosophical writings of Plato and Aristotle, virtue-based ethical theories define a moral person in terms of their demonstration of such virtues as courage, honesty, generosity, fairness, and justice, which can be developed over time as individuals mature and grow (Northouse, pp. 335-336).

Ethical leaders practice the principals of ethical leadership.  Their actions must at least be partially rooted in virtue-based ethical theories.  Ethical leaders should exemplify the principals of respect, service, justice, honesty, and community.  These principals are the pillars of ethical leadership, and will form the bases for actions undertaken by an ethical leader.  Respect is demonstrated by actions that not only recognize the humanity of others by thoughts, actions, and behavior that are not self-centric, but recognize the value of others, and the importance of their thoughts and ideas.  Respect for others can lead to providing service to others.  Ethical leaders try to find the ways and means of providing followers with a level of service.  Service to followers enables a leader to clear hurdles that may prevent followers from achieving their goals, or the goals of the organization.  Ethical leaders prioritize justice and promote fairness.  Fairness implies a desire on the part of a leader to treat others in a manner that promotes equality among followers.  Honesty is an important principal of an ethical leader.  Honesty can be seen as being more than just the opposite of dishonest, but also avoiding deception, encouraging transparency when possible, and encouraging similar behavior in others.  Ethical leaders try to build community and the promotion of a common good that involves the needs and goals of others (Northouse, pp. 341-347).

My case here is for the development and utilization of ethical standards that provide the basis for public sector leadership intent on serving the public interest and the greater good.  To my knowledge, no single set of ethical standards for politicians and government officials exists.   Developing tenets of governmental leadership that reflect those of an ethical leader is a necessary first step towards taking remedial action to help overcome the ethics vacuum that has engulfed the world of politicians and governmental leaders.  Ethical standards, and ethical actions that flow from these standards, will lead to ethically based policies designed to overcome the ignorance, arrogance, and outright criminality that undermines the ethical underpinnings of good government.


Northouse, P. G. (2015). Leadership: Theory and Practice (7th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Strohm, O. (2017).  The Need for Ethical Standards in Pennsylvania Local Government. Penn State University.

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